Gaetano Donizetti – Preludio funebre
(b. Bergamo, 29. November 1797 – d. Bergamo, 8. April 1848)
The creation of Gaetano Donizetti’s Preludio funebre is shrouded in mystery. The funeral prelude is not mentioned in the composer’s voluminous correspondence, but it is unmistakably one of his mature works, with an elegant use of simple gestures to create dramatic effects.
Few composers did more to establish the operatic prelude as a genre than Donizetti did. With 70-odd operas to his credit, depending on how one counts, Donizetti had an unmatched opportunity to hone his craft and experiment with the prelude as an expressive introduction to scenes, acts, and events. Many of his preludes tell stories in their own right, spurring a second life in the concert hall and in piano arrangements. This Preludio funebre offers tempting glimpses of events and moods in its sound.
The primary manuscript for the Preludio funebre was first recorded in the collection of the Conservatorio di S. Pietro a Majella in Naples, often called the Naples Conservatory. The city and conservatory were of both personal and professional importance to Donizetti. Some 51 of his operas were performed in Naples, and he taught on the conservatory faculty for many years. When the conservatory director Niccolò Zingarelli (a teacher of Bellini) died in 1837, Donizetti stepped up as the interim director, penned a quick Requiem for Zingarelli, and applied for the permanent directorate.
Donizetti conquered the opera halls of Europe, but he did not win the job. He met with King Ferdinand II several times, but the monarch repeatedly put off making the decision. Then, a surprise came: Ferdinand banned depicting martyrdom on the Neapolitan stage. This was personally troublesome to Donizetti, who had just finished writing his opera Poliuto, a dramatization of the martyrdom of Saint Polyeuctus. The decree made the opera unperformable overnight – not just in the city, but in the entire kingdom. Worse yet, the news arrived right before rehearsals began. An irate Donizetti resigned his position at the conservatory and departed for Paris, where the opera was reworked as Les martyrs. Donizetti’s career would henceforth take him all over Europe.
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